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US Legislative Immigration Update March 30, 2009


March 30, 2009
FAIRUS.org
Right Side News Reports from the Federation for American Immigration Reform in This March 30th Legislative Weekly...
  • DREAM Act Introduced in the House and Senate
  • Obama Administration Announces New Steps to Tackle Drug Cartel Violence
  • Maryland Closer to Denying Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses
  • President Obama's Illegal Alien Aunt to Fight Deportation at Upcoming Hearing

DREAM Act Introduced in the House and Senate

As the latest move intended to flex their legislative muscle, amnesty supporters in Congress last week re-introduced the DREAM Act (also known as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act).  Authored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) (S.729) and Congressman Howard Berman (H.R.1751), the DREAM Act grants amnesty to a broad range of individuals who meet certain minimal educational requirements and broad definitions relating to student status. 

While the text of the legislation has not been officially posted, previous versions of the bill have:

  • granted broad-based amnesty to illegal aliens who entered the country before a certain age if they can meet minimal educational standards;
  • changed federal law to allow states to subsidize college tuition for illegal aliens even when that subsidy is not available to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants attending a state college; and 
  • rendered moot any lawsuits filed by U.S. citizens against a state or colleges when state law allowed colleges to grant in-state tuition without offering the same benefit to U.S. citizens not residing in the state.  (FAIR Legislative Analysis, May 2007).

Immigration reformers and political observers are waiting to see whether the text of latest DREAM Act is more or less restrictive.

The Senate bill has 7 cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as well as Republican Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Mel Martinez (R-FL).  The House bill has 9 co-sponsors, including House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). 

Obama Administration Announces New Steps to Tackle Drug Cartel Violence

On Tuesday, March 24, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano, announced the new Southwest Border Security Initiative (SBSI).  The initiative is a broad, interagency effort that will refocus DHS resources to address the growing violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The SBSI seeks to curtail the violence by focusing on two elements: a redeployment of personnel to the border and increasing resources for screening border traffic.  First, SBSI increases the number of agents assigned to border task forces, liaison work, and attaché work with the Mexican government by reassigning approximately 360 personnel from other locations and agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
 
Second, Homeland Security will also send resources to high-volume border crossings that will assist in the screening of traffic, such as x-ray scanners, license plate readers and drug and cash sniffing dogs.  The technology is intended to reduce the volume of drugs, weapons, and currency that crosses the U.S.-Mexican border.  (Napolitano Press Release, March 24, 2009).  However, it does not appear that Homeland Security is actually adding additional resources but "redeploying" existing resources. Secretary Napolitano has herself stated that resources for the initiative would come from "realigning from less urgent activities, fund balances, and, in some cases, reprogramming."  (Napolitano's Senate Testimony, March 25, 2009; The Hill, March 25, 2009).

While many welcomed the Obama Administration's announcement, some members of Congress have questioned whether this shift of DHS resources will undermine ICE's ability to enforce the nation's immigration laws.  (Smith Press Release, March 24, 2009).   Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) summed up this widespread frustration, saying: "The administration appears to be using border violence as an excuse to reduce interior enforcement of our immigration laws and enact gun restrictions. ... [W]e must ensure that [this initiative does] not undercut our national security and immigration enforcement responsibilities." Napolitano's proposal raises concerns that these "strategic redeployments" could reduce ICE's effectiveness in combating illegal immigration.  (CQ Politics, March 24, 2009).

In addition, the Obama Administration has not explained how SBSI materially differs from the Merida Initiative, the Bush-era plan to provide equipment, training, and funding to the Mexican government to assist in its war against the drug cartels.  (Augusta Chronicle, March 26, 2009; and Politico, March 24, 2009).  Texas Governor Rick Perry and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer have expressed frustration at the Obama Administration's hesitancy to activate the National Guard for the purposes of border security.  (Investor's Business Daily, March 25, 2009; and Politico, March 25, 2009). 

Maryland Closer to Denying Illegal Aliens Driver's Licenses

The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering two different bills that would address the problem of issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens.  On Wednesday, March 25, the Maryland Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee voted to advance a bill to the full Senate that would require applicants for driver's licenses in Maryland to provide proof of their legal status.  The bill - which was introduced by Sen. Norman Stone, Jr. (D-Balt. County) and co-sponsored by Sen. David Brinkley (R-Carroll and Frederick Counties) - has the support of Maryland Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, Maryland Motor Vehicle Association Administrator John T. Kuo, and law enforcement in Frederick County, where the federal 287(g) program has been in effect.  (The Frederick News-Post, March 26, 2009; WJZ-TV, March 26, 2009; and The Frederick News-Post, March 19, 2009). 

While it is unclear if the Senate bill would bar illegal aliens who have already fraudulently obtained Maryland driver's licenses from renewing those licenses, the Maryland House of Delegates is backing a "compromise" that would block the issuance of a driver's license to illegal aliens who are first-time applicants for a license but would permit illegal aliens to renew their driver's license.  (WJZ-TV, March 27, 2009; and The Baltimore Sun, March 26, 2009).

The push for these common-sense drivers's license restrictions is the result of a growing sense that Maryland's lax laws have served as a magnet for illegal aliens looking to legitimize their presence with state-issued driver's licenses.  (The Frederick News-Post, March 24, 2009; DelmarvaNow.com, March 23, 2009; and The Washington Times, March 20, 2009).  Additional public pressure from recent high-profile illegal alien criminal cases has pushed public officials, including Governor Martin O'Malley and fellow Democrats who previously favored illegal immigration-friendly laws, to reverse course on the driver's license issue as a way of restoring integrity to Maryland's identification system.  (The Washington Times, March 20, 2009; D.C. Examiner, March 19, 2009; and D.C. Examiner, December 4, 2008).  

In the event that Maryland enacts this law, Maryland will join 46 other states and the District of Columbia, which require residency and legal status in order to obtain state issued identification.  (The Frederick News-Post, March 24, 2009).

President Obama's Illegal Alien Aunt to Fight Deportation at Upcoming Hearing

On April 1, President Obama's illegal alien aunt will appear before a federal judge to appeal her pending deportation.  (The Boston Globe, March 24, 2009).  Zeituni Onyango - or "Auntie Zeituni," as President Obama referred to her in his memoir -was ordered to leave the country after her application for political asylum was denied in 2004.  Onyango was thrust into the public spotlight when reports released just prior to the November 2008 general election revealed that she was still residing in the United States illegally.  (The New York Times, November 2, 2008).

Media reports have highlighted several issues surrounding Onyango's illegal status.  When the story first broke last fall, questions arose as to whether Obama had been aware of Onyango's status.  The Obama campaign said that the then U.S. Senator had no knowledge of Onyango's status and that Obama believed "that any and all appropriate laws [should] be followed."  Additionally, Obama was forced to return more than $250 Onyango had contributed to his campaign because of a federal law that bars illegal aliens from donating to political campaigns. (The Guardian, November 1, 2008).

Onyango's residence in taxpayer funded public housing has created media buzz as well.  In January, The Associated Press spotlighted the issue, reporting that "untold thousands of illegal immigrants live in public housing at a time when hundreds of thousands of citizens and legal residents are stuck waiting years for a spot."  (USA Today, January 1, 2009).

Still other media outlets have highlighted concerns that Onyango may be receiving preferential treatment because of her connection to President Obama.  Last week, The Boston Globe noted that some are "scrutinizing the case for political favoritism."  According to a spokeswoman at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which is part of the Department of Justice charged with overseeing federal immigration courts, Onyango's case was reopened in December even though she had lost several previous attempts to stop her deportation.  (The Boston Globe, March 24, 2009). 

True immigration reformers view the case as an opportunity for President Obama to solidify and strengthen his stated support for the enforcement of immigration laws.  Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies noted that Onyango's case presents "the White House an opportunity...If they follow through on a decision that she should go home, that would actually raise the president's credibility enormously on immigration enforcement." (Id.)

Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro will hear Onyango's plea for political asylum behind closed doors. Shapiro has been an immigration judge for nearly 30 years (Id.) and denied 68% of the asylum requests he heard between 2002 and 2007.  (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse).   In order to be granted asylum, federal law requires that Onyango prove that her life would be threatened because of her "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion" should she be returned to her home country. (8 U.S.C. § 1231(b)(3)).
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The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest.

FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest-more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.

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